Thing A Day 2: Equivocation and History

 

I had never heard of Kevin M. Kruse, of Princeton, until this semester. There’s nothing particularly shocking about that — he’s a historian and I am not. I think his name bounced around the edges of my awareness, but this semester I was on a panel discussing religion in the Founding Era, and one of the panelists was using Kruse’s book One Nation Under God as the primary source for his argument. Today, I saw this exchange on twitter:

Magness is an economic historian at American Institute for Economic Research, for context.

I had never heard of Kruse. But after these two exchanges, I do not like him. And I need to write a thing a day, so now’s a good time to explain why. His analytic technique is equivocation.

Kruse doesn’t lie — the facts that he states are true. The problem is that the facts he states have meanings in the times they happen that are different from the meanings they have today. You might be aware that “awful” used to mean something that inspired awe, for example. If you are reading historical documents and you read something described as “awful,” that doesn’t mean it was bad. Usually quite the opposite. This leads to some humor when reading about the “awful power of God,” in the writings of church fathers.

In the exchange with Magness and Woolery, Kruse is engaging in equivocation of a modern phrase: “win the popular vote.” To say someone “won the popular vote” potentially has two meanings. Among political scientists (who frankly ought to know better), it frequently is a short hand way of saying “won the two party vote.” This is the sense in which honest political scientists (who, I repeat, ought to know better) mean “Clinton won the popular vote.” And the most honest of the bunch basically don’t say “win the popular vote,” they just say “won the two-party vote.” The colloquial meaning of the word, though, is “got a majority of the popular vote.” Clinton did not win the popular vote, receiving only 48.2 percent.

Kruse is bashing Woolery, who is clearly using the colloquial meaning of the word, by conflating the two meanings. People who aren’t paying close enough attention just accept the authoritative statement. Those who inquire more deeply are smacked around by the jargon. It’s a rank appeal to authority to cover up sloppy thinking, driven entirely by the desire to prove a point.

In the exchange from the panel, the equivocation was over the phrase “Christian Nation,” in the Treaty of Tripoli — a treaty between the US and the Barbary States in advance of the Barbary Pirates War. Article 11 of the treaty states that the US is not a Christian Nation. However, as Thomas Essell points out, that isn’t all it says. The treaty states that the US isn’t a Christian Nation, isn’t at war with any Muslim nations, and has no laws requiring it to fight Muslim nations. Therefore, the Christian religion of the US and the Muslim religion of the Barbary States is not a reason for war. In the context of 18th-century diplomacy, the treaty is saying the US is not part of the Holy League, or otherwise a sectarian state that is going to fight religious wars with Muslims over the religious differences. It is entirely unresponsive to the modern claim “the US was founded as a Christian Nation,” which means something closer to “the people who founded the United States were drawing very heavily from the Christian religion to do so.”

There were other instances in the book, discussed at the panel, as well, but this was the main one I remember.

This is poor history, and as it appears to be the level of scholarship that Kruse traffics in, I feel no particular need to read him further.

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There are 19 comments.

  1. EtCarter Listener

    Thanks for context on the content of that treaty. Agreed: The scriptural purpose of the church in the era of the new covenant, running up until the personal return of the Messiah to the earth and establishing His reign, reversing the curse, and executing His justice and benevolence as sinful humanity could never achieve…then, no, the purpose of the church in the present era is not to exercise control of nations as the civil government. She does not have the authority to take up the sword and administer corporal punishment in a national capacity, nor make war on other civilizations. Just look at the atrocities that church leaders are responsible for who, in earlier times across Europe and the near and middle East decided to join itself to civil government. Eusebius records many heated arguments against heresy, but for the first centuries, no Christians are recorded as considering overthrowing governments and or making laws to kill heretics. Therefore, I believe it very wise for US gov officials to put in that treaty the church in the US cannot be dealt with based on government sword-wielding “church” so-called overseas. Yknow?

    • #1
    • May 14, 2019, at 4:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. rgbact Member

    I’ve been reading quite a bit of Kruse’s Twitter in the last few weeks. Evidently, he’s turned into a liberal rock star historian or something. I’ll give him the “popular vote” argument, since Woolery claimed Lincoln won because of the Electoral College, which isn’t accurate.

    His bigger troubling argument is a big one he’s had on the “Big Switch” in political parties in the South since 1960. He’s been fighting Dinesh D’Souza for weeks on that one, to the delight of his Twitter followers and his other smarmy historian friends. Sick to see how hive minded historians are. Probably worth a post.

     

    • #2
    • May 14, 2019, at 5:08 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Aaron Miller Member

    A few more posts like this and I will be much less eager to make suppositions about history. Thanks.

    • #3
    • May 14, 2019, at 6:35 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. DonG Coolidge

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Kruse’s Twitter in the last few weeks. Evidently, he’s turned into a liberal rock star historian or something. I’ll give him the “popular vote” argument, since Woolery claimed Lincoln won because of the Electoral College, which isn’t accurate.

    The US president always wins because of the Electoral College, unless it goes to the newly elected Congress to decide. 

     

    • #4
    • May 14, 2019, at 6:42 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. rgbact Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Kruse’s Twitter in the last few weeks. Evidently, he’s turned into a liberal rock star historian or something. I’ll give him the “popular vote” argument, since Woolery claimed Lincoln won because of the Electoral College, which isn’t accurate.

    The US president always wins because of the Electoral College, unless it goes to the newly elected Congress to decide.

    Sure. But the liberals argument against that wicked tool of white supremacists called the Electoral College (that favored Obama in 2012) is that the person with the most votes should win always. And Lincoln got the most votes in 1860. So, bad example. Only twice in US History has someone got 1%+ fewer votes than another and won. Trump was the 2nd.

    • #5
    • May 14, 2019, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. DonG Coolidge

    rgbact (View Comment):
    Sure. But the liberals argument against that wicked tool of white supremacists called the Electoral College

    I say one vote per county.

    • #6
    • May 14, 2019, at 8:13 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Steve C. Member

    Imagine how upset these tools would be if the election of the President fell to the House of Representatives. Each state delegation gets one vote, meaning California and Delaware have the same importance. 

    • #7
    • May 14, 2019, at 8:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    DonG (View Comment):
    I say one vote per county.

    Since states determine counties, California and New York could make it one county per person.

    • #8
    • May 15, 2019, at 1:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    The left does not care. They are always in search of power, not truth.

    • #9
    • May 15, 2019, at 4:49 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. EtCarter Listener

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    The left does not care. They are always in search of power, not truth.

    Agreed @bryangstephens .

    During some unfortunate research over the last couple of years, I discovered the Left shares that objective with black-magic (users,wielders, practicers, whatever…” But, it’s sorta like “Fight Club”: they always lie about it and make it sound like it’s about “loving nature, and natural love” , yknow?

    • #10
    • May 15, 2019, at 9:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Skyler Coolidge

    The argument about “Christian nation” is certainly as you describe it. However, when bandying words in the debate you should also include that the Constitution and the people who adopted it most certainly did intend for our nation to not be a Christian nation in every sense. They feared a government in the thrall of any religion and they intended the country to be free for all kinds of mutually antagonistic Protestants, Catholics of all stripes, Jews of every kind, Mohammedans, and even atheists. To say otherwise is historical anachronism and wishful thinking by a few select versions of Protestantism. 

    • #11
    • May 15, 2019, at 12:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    The argument about “Christian nation” is certainly as you describe it. However, when bandying words in the debate you should also include that the Constitution and the people who adopted it most certainly did intend for our nation to not be a Christian nation in every sense. They feared a government in the thrall of any religion and they intended the country to be free for all kinds of mutually antagonistic Protestants, Catholics of all stripes, Jews of every kind, Mohammedans, and even atheists. To say otherwise is historical anachronism and wishful thinking by a few select versions of Protestantism.

    This is not correct. They passed a Bill of Rights prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, meaning the adoption of a single nationwide church. Some states had established churches, and this was not prohibited until a (radical) 1940 SCOTUS decision called Everson. The Founders generally thought that a Christian religious requirement for office was implicit in the clause requiring the taking of an oath of office.

    Jefferson was very unusual among the Founders in this respect, standing almost alone, which is why modern secularists rely on his view so strongly. He was far out of the mainstream in this regard, and appears to have largely hidden his true views.

    The Founders did think that the federal government should have little or nothing to do with religion, which was to be left to the states.

    I think that it is your version that was wishful thinking.

     

    • #12
    • May 15, 2019, at 12:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Skyler Coolidge

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    The argument about “Christian nation” is certainly as you describe it. However, when bandying words in the debate you should also include that the Constitution and the people who adopted it most certainly did intend for our nation to not be a Christian nation in every sense. They feared a government in the thrall of any religion and they intended the country to be free for all kinds of mutually antagonistic Protestants, Catholics of all stripes, Jews of every kind, Mohammedans, and even atheists. To say otherwise is historical anachronism and wishful thinking by a few select versions of Protestantism.

    This is not correct. They passed a Bill of Rights prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, meaning the adoption of a single nationwide church. Some states had established churches, and this was not prohibited until a (radical) 1940 SCOTUS decision called Everson. The Founders generally thought that a Christian religious requirement for office was implicit in the clause requiring the taking of an oath of office.

    Jefferson was very unusual among the Founders in this respect, standing almost alone, which is why modern secularists rely on his view so strongly. He was far out of the mainstream in this regard, and appears to have largely hidden his true views.

    The Founders did think that the federal government should have little or nothing to do with religion, which was to be left to the states.

    I think that it is your version that was wishful thinking.

     

    No, it’s the law, it’s correct history. Just as there are pretenders that wish otherwise now, there were pretenders who wished otherwise then. Our country has been explicitly secular by design since the beginning.

    • #13
    • May 15, 2019, at 1:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    rgbact (View Comment):

    I’ve been reading quite a bit of Kruse’s Twitter in the last few weeks. Evidently, he’s turned into a liberal rock star historian or something. I’ll give him the “popular vote” argument, since Woolery claimed Lincoln won because of the Electoral College, which isn’t accurate.

    His bigger troubling argument is a big one he’s had on the “Big Switch” in political parties in the South since 1960. He’s been fighting Dinesh D’Souza for weeks on that one, to the delight of his Twitter followers and his other smarmy historian friends. Sick to see how hive minded historians are. Probably worth a post.

    I’ve often said that I’ll believe in the ‘Big Switch’ when someone does the work of looking up the voter registration records and demonstrating that X many people changed their registration from Dem to Rep, and did so based on racial animus. 

    Until then it’s an attempt at a frame job whose main proof is that the guys who were guilty all the other times insist that this time it’s this other guy because they’re totally the good guys now. 

    • #14
    • May 15, 2019, at 4:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    The argument about “Christian nation” is certainly as you describe it. However, when bandying words in the debate you should also include that the Constitution and the people who adopted it most certainly did intend for our nation to not be a Christian nation in every sense. They feared a government in the thrall of any religion and they intended the country to be free for all kinds of mutually antagonistic Protestants, Catholics of all stripes, Jews of every kind, Mohammedans, and even atheists. To say otherwise is historical anachronism and wishful thinking by a few select versions of Protestantism.

    This is not correct. They passed a Bill of Rights prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, meaning the adoption of a single nationwide church. Some states had established churches, and this was not prohibited until a (radical) 1940 SCOTUS decision called Everson. The Founders generally thought that a Christian religious requirement for office was implicit in the clause requiring the taking of an oath of office.

    Jefferson was very unusual among the Founders in this respect, standing almost alone, which is why modern secularists rely on his view so strongly. He was far out of the mainstream in this regard, and appears to have largely hidden his true views.

    The Founders did think that the federal government should have little or nothing to do with religion, which was to be left to the states.

    I think that it is your version that was wishful thinking.

     

    No, it’s the law, it’s correct history. Just as there are pretenders that wish otherwise now, there were pretenders who wished otherwise then. Our country has been explicitly secular by design since the beginning.

    I would say that the government was secular by design, but that the country was assumed to be Christian (and Protestant at that) in ethos. I care considerably more for what the dead white dudes wrote in the Constitution than the contents of their letters, papers, and deeds, but those ain’t chopped umbles either. 

    fwiw, I think they would all be disappointed, if not horrified, in what we have become, particularly with regard to decorum and godliness. 

    • #15
    • May 15, 2019, at 4:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. rgbact Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):

    His bigger troubling argument is a big one he’s had on the “Big Switch” in political parties in the South since 1960. He’s been fighting Dinesh D’Souza for weeks on that one,

    I’ve often said that I’ll believe in the ‘Big Switch’ when someone does the work of looking up the voter registration records and demonstrating that X many people changed their registration from Dem to Rep, and did so based on racial animus.

    Well, thats how Democrats view things. If a working class white person voted Republican….it must be because of racism. Same theory for the Big Switch……and the Trump election. And not one of these so called academics can imagine a different theory. Takes an outside person like Dinesh to do it. And then they mock him for not having enough credentials to have an opinion.

    • #16
    • May 15, 2019, at 7:04 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    rgbact (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):

    His bigger troubling argument is a big one he’s had on the “Big Switch” in political parties in the South since 1960. He’s been fighting Dinesh D’Souza for weeks on that one,

    I’ve often said that I’ll believe in the ‘Big Switch’ when someone does the work of looking up the voter registration records and demonstrating that X many people changed their registration from Dem to Rep, and did so based on racial animus.

    Well, thats how Democrats view things. If a working class white person voted Republican….it must be because of racism. Same theory for the Big Switch……and the Trump election. And not one of these so called academics can imagine a different theory. Takes an outside person like Dinesh to do it. And then they mock him for not having enough credentials to have an opinion.

    Plus he’s just another privileged white guy. 

    • #17
    • May 15, 2019, at 8:00 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. SkipSul Moderator

    TBA (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    rgbact (View Comment):

    His bigger troubling argument is a big one he’s had on the “Big Switch” in political parties in the South since 1960. He’s been fighting Dinesh D’Souza for weeks on that one,

    I’ve often said that I’ll believe in the ‘Big Switch’ when someone does the work of looking up the voter registration records and demonstrating that X many people changed their registration from Dem to Rep, and did so based on racial animus.

    Well, thats how Democrats view things. If a working class white person voted Republican….it must be because of racism. Same theory for the Big Switch……and the Trump election. And not one of these so called academics can imagine a different theory. Takes an outside person like Dinesh to do it. And then they mock him for not having enough credentials to have an opinion.

    Plus he’s just another privileged white guy.

    Well, honorific white guy anyway.

    • #18
    • May 15, 2019, at 8:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    The argument about “Christian nation” is certainly as you describe it. However, when bandying words in the debate you should also include that the Constitution and the people who adopted it most certainly did intend for our nation to not be a Christian nation in every sense. They feared a government in the thrall of any religion and they intended the country to be free for all kinds of mutually antagonistic Protestants, Catholics of all stripes, Jews of every kind, Mohammedans, and even atheists. To say otherwise is historical anachronism and wishful thinking by a few select versions of Protestantism.

    This is not correct. They passed a Bill of Rights prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, meaning the adoption of a single nationwide church. Some states had established churches, and this was not prohibited until a (radical) 1940 SCOTUS decision called Everson. The Founders generally thought that a Christian religious requirement for office was implicit in the clause requiring the taking of an oath of office.

    Jefferson was very unusual among the Founders in this respect, standing almost alone, which is why modern secularists rely on his view so strongly. He was far out of the mainstream in this regard, and appears to have largely hidden his true views.

    The Founders did think that the federal government should have little or nothing to do with religion, which was to be left to the states.

    I think that it is your version that was wishful thinking.

     

    No, it’s the law, it’s correct history. Just as there are pretenders that wish otherwise now, there were pretenders who wished otherwise then. Our country has been explicitly secular by design since the beginning.

    The Founders probably wouldn’t have even understood what the word “Secular” meant in this context. I’ll go out on a limb and say they would have considered the government non-sectarian. But even that was driven not by a lack of interest in the religion of the people, but by the recognition that any attempt to force a religion on the entire country would promptly result in civil war. As it was, the states had established religions (different ones), and at least Massachusetts and Rhode Island actually had near-revolutions over the doctrines of those state religions (taught in schools) before they decided to disestablish them. Even then, every state maintained religious moral instruction in their schools well into the 20th century.

    The states didn’t overtly favor any particular denomination (Catholics might not have felt that way -which is why they built their extensive private school system), but they were partisans in favor some flavor of civic Christianity for over a century. And the federal government was prohibited from interfering with that partisanship until the 20th century.

    • #19
    • May 15, 2019, at 8:37 PM PDT
    • 9 likes